Metro

Map of proposed Three Sisters Bridge to connect Virginia and Washington D.C. via I-266

No Bridge for Three Sisters

As a centuries-old legend has it, three young women attempted to cross the Potomac River late one night. They drowned in a horrific storm, however, and marked the place of their deaths with a cluster of rocks: the Three Sisters Islands. Today's kayakers and canoe paddlers may not feel the dread of the three sisters' curse, but their final promise may explain D.C.'s failure to build a bridge over these islands. If we cannot cross the river here, then nobody else ever will. The unbuilt Three Sisters Bridge played a crucial role in mid-20th century politics, especially the subway vs. freeway debates that would determine the future of transit in the nation's capital.

“The Logo Created by The President's Council on the Year 2000 Conversion, for use on the now defunct Y2K.gov,”December, 1998 (Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Y2K_Logo.gif

Metro Squashes the Y2K Bug

In the midst of the final countdown to the new millennium at 11:59 p.m. on December 31, 1999, people were waiting for more than confetti to fly and the ball to drop. Eyes around the world were locked on computer systems to see if the technology would advance with the clock. As news outlets had warned the public for months, the so-called Y2K bug was expected to affect, and potentially paralyze thousands of computer systems worldwide, and WMATA was taking no chances when it came to making sure Metro would be running when the year 2000 arrived. 

Metro: It's Not Easy Being Green

“DCSubwayConstruction, August 1989” (Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:DCSubwayConstruction.jpg

December 28, 1991 marked an important milestone for the Metro and for Washington: the long-awaited Green Line finally opened for business. On that Saturday, complete with official speeches, balloons and plenty of pomp and circumstance, the Anacostia, Navy Yard and Waterfront stations opened their fare gates for the first time. Getting to this celebration was anything but easy, however. For many years, it had seemed that the Green Line would never become a reality, as the last color of the Metrorail project faced countless setbacks due to budgeting, route disputes, and construction methods.

Historical D.C. Metro Map graphic

Historical D.C. Metro Map

The first five Metrorail stations opened March 27, 1976, so that means today is Metro’s birthday! We thought we'd celebrate the occasion with a new Metro-inspired interactive here on the blog. In our Historical D.C. Metro Map, we’ve re-named all the stations in the system according to historical events and sometimes quirky stories from the surrounding neighborhoods. America's Toilet, Dead Man's Hollow, Xenu's Landing... What's your stop?

A Washington Landmark: Ben’s Chili Bowl

Facade of Ben's Chili Bowl (Photo Source: Creative Commons) https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/12/15542832_25808e5769_b.jpg

According to co-founder Virginia Ali, Ben’s Chili Bowl has never been “your typical restaurant.” Unlike other diners of the 1950’s, Virginia’s husband Ben thought “Washington might be hungry for the kind of spicy dishes he had known while growing up in the Caribbean,” and so he created his own recipe for chili con carne—which remains a closely guarded family secret. A unique element of the restaurant at the beginning, was that “Ben’s spicy chili was served only atop hot dogs, half-smokes or hamburgers,” and not by the bowl as the place’s name would suggest. Ben’s invention of the chili half-smoke quickly become D.C.’s staple food item, and for the next 20 years, loyal Washingtonians overcame a slew of significant obstacles to get their fix.

Ballston Common: The Birth, Death, & Rebirth of the D.C. Area's First Major Shopping Mall

“To describe this shopping center in words is a bit difficult because of its extremely high efficiency in the use of every square foot.”

While it may be hard today to imagine the shopping center at the intersection of Arlington’s Glebe Rd. and Wilson Blvd. as an exciting and advanced piece of architectural planning, it truly was at its opening in 1951.  At the time, it was the largest suburban retail space on the East Coast, and the first ever to be built around a parking garage (which also happened to be the largest parking garage in the United States). This sort of retail design was an absolute novelty, and an early hallmark of both the post-War evolution of the American suburb, as well as the DC area’s growing population. Its name, however, was a little on the nose: Parkington.

Arlington's Little Saigon

For about 10 years following the fall of Saigon in April 1975, Arlington, Virginia became a destination for Vietnamese immigrants fleeing communist rule. Then, almost as quickly as it had developed, Arlington's so called "Little Saigon" faded away. Check out the video below!


 

Adas Israel Synagogue building on moving truck, December 18, 1969. (Photo source: Wikipedia)

A Synagogue on Wheels

As many realtors will tell you, the first three rules of real estate are, “location, location, location.” Well, in the late 1960s, location presented a very serious problem for transit planners and the congregation of the Adas Israel synagogue. Construction of Metro’s Red Line was getting underway and WMATA had acquired the block bounded by 5th,  6th,  F and G Streets, NW to serve as a staging area and, eventually, the home of Metro’s headquarters.

There was only one problem. The block was also the home of Washington’s first synagogue building, which had been standing on the site since 1876.

Two Tragedies in One Day

It was snowing on the 14th Street Bridge and traffic had ground to a standstill as thousands of federal workers and other rush-hour commuters tried to get home ahead of a major storm. With an awful metallic crack, a blue-and-white jet swept out of the swirling snow at 4 p.m., smacked against one of the bridge's spans, sheared through five cars like a machete, ripped through 50 feet of guard rail and plunged nose first into the frozen Potomac River.

Moments later in a crowded subway car underneath the National Mall:

The train reversed direction.... with a loud popping and crunching sound and a sudden showering of sparks and electrical arcing.... Dozens of people of both sexes screamed. Slowly, surrealistically, the concrete abutment grew larger, closer and actually pressed the left center-rear of the car. The side and roof slowly caved in, almost as a foot crushes a tin can. More screaming, arcing, then silence.

It sounds like a scene in a Hollywood movie right before the hero or heroine springs into action. Tragically, however, this was no movie. It was real life in Washington on January 13, 1982.